University of Minnesota
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Sammy Shaker receives prestigious Astronaut Scholarship

Sammy Shaker, one of the Department of Chemistry’s top undergraduate students and a College of Science & Engineering and University Honors Program student, has received a prestigious $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The Astronaut Scholarship is the largest merit-based scholarship program in the nation for undergraduate students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. He received his award, Tuesday, October 20, from Minneapolis native Robert Cabana, a Hall of Fame astronaut and current NASA Kennedy Space Center Director. 

Sammy is majoring in chemistry and mathematics and plans to pursue a doctorate in inorganic materials chemistry. He plans to work in several areas of novel material synthesis and characterization to address problems in energy storage and conversion as well as heterogeneous catalysis.

He has been taking classes and conducting research since coming to the university four years ago through the state’s Post-Secondary Education Options. While still in high school, Sammy began doing research at the University of Minnesota with Mathematics Professor Duane Nykamp, modeling neural networks. Since his freshman year, he has worked in the laboratory of Chemistry Professor Andreas Stein to develop templates for synthesizing porous and nanostructured materials. He has worked with Mathematics Professor David Clark to solve a problem of error-correcting codes, and with Professor Robert Tranquillo to analyze particle image velocimetry for a tissue-engineered heart valve. He also worked on a project for abdominal ultrasounds in the context of cholecystitis with Dr. Brian Driver at the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

One of his projects in Professor Stein's laboratory involved the morphology control of porous, redox active metal oxides for solar thermochemical water splitting. This work has resulted in a publication in the Journal Inorganic Chemistry, with Sammy as one of the co-authors.

“Sammy is an extraordinarily gifted student,” said Stein, “of the type whom I have met only once or twice in my career. He has taken a degree of ownership for his undergraduate research projects that you expect only from advanced graduate student. His command of technical language as well as his insightful questions and suggestion, simply amaze me. Sammy is an exceptional student with a prospect for a brilliant career.”

A National Merit and Presidential Scholar, Sammy has earned a number of awards, scholarships and fellowships while at the university, including the prestigious honor of being named a Goldwater Scholar. Some of his other honors include a National Merit Scholar-Walgreens Corporation, Bentson Family Scholar, Winchell Excellence in Science Award, Gold Scholarship, Presidential Scholarship, CRC Freshman Chemistry Award, CHEM 1021 General Chemistry Award, Jane B. Spence Scholarship, M. Cannon Sneed Scholarship, J. Lewis Maynard Memorial Prize in Advanced Inorganic Chemistry Award, David A. and Merece H. Johnson Scholarship, American Chemical Society DIC Travel Award, and Heisig/Gleysteen Chemistry Summer Research Program Fellowships. A native of Roseville, MN, he is active in the Shotokan Karate Club and the Al-Madinah Cultural Center.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s mission is to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for college students who exhibit motivation, imagination, and exceptional performance in these fields. Rachel Soble, an undergraduate focusing on genetics, cell biology and development/computer science in the College of Biological Sciences, also received an Astronaut Scholarship.

Sammy received his Astronaut Scholarship award, Tuesday, October 20, from Minneapolis native Robert Cabana, a Hall of Fame astronaut and current NASA Kennedy Space Center Director.